Do-It-Yourself Roof Repairs

by Paul Bianchina

Tips on replacing shingles, fixing flashings

RoofNow that the weather is nicer, it’s the ideal time to take care of any roofing problems that may have come up, and certainly the most obvious place to start is with the shingles themselves.

From ground level, examine your roof as a whole. Are a substantial number of shingles either missing or damaged? Are composition shingles curling up at the ends, or missing a lot of the mineral granules that cover them? Are wood shakes or shingles cracked, brittle, or no longer laying flat on the shakes below?

If your answer to these questions is “yes”, then it’s probably time for a complete new roof. Old, worn shingles are difficult to patch into, and trying to weave new shingles in with the old ones can often do more harm than good. If, however, you have only a few isolated problem areas, then taking care of repairs now can help keep a small problem from growing into a much larger one.


Before you can patch in new composition shingles, you first need to remove the old ones. Since the fasteners that hold the shingle in place are concealed under the shingle above it, you need to proceed carefully to avoid doing additional damage.

First, carefully work a flat pry bar or stiff putty knife between the shingles to break the tar seal between them. Very carefully — and this is best done when the shingle is warm — lift the upper shingle to expose the nail or staple holding the damaged lower shingle in place, and remove the fastener with your pry bar. Be careful not to bend the shingle too far or you’ll snap it off.

Slip the replacement shingle into place and fasten it down. To avoid the possibility of additional damage from your hammer, it’s better to use an air-driven nailer or stapler instead of hand-driven nails. To ensure a good seal, apply a few dabs of roofing cement to the underside of the upper shingle and press it carefully and firmly down onto the new shingle.


Since wood shakes and shingles don’t flex like composition, they are often somewhat more difficult to replace. For best results, work on a cool day soon after a rain, when the wood is softer and less brittle, but not when the roof is wet enough to be dangerous to walk on.

First, use a tool called a shingle puller — available at most roofing supply retailers — to remove the fasteners. A shingle puller is basically a flat piece of metal with a hook cut into both sides near the end. To use the tool, slide it between the top of the shingle you’re replacing and the underside of the shingle above it. Next, slide it to one side and then pull down, hooking the nail and pulling it loose. Shakes and shingles are typically held in by two nails, so repeat this operation for the nail on the other side.

Select a new shingle of the same width and slip it into place, aligning it with the shingles on either side. Since you can’t conceal the new nails under the upper shingles, you will have to carefully face-nail the new shingle in place, then seal the nail heads with a small dab of roofing cement.


Flashings are used in a number of different areas on the roof, and are typically made from either aluminum or galvanized sheet metal. Their purpose in life is to help seal the roofing where it meets plumbing and flue pipes, chimneys, attic and fan vents, skylights and light tubes, walls and chases, and basically any other roof protrusion or vertical surface.

Flashings should be checked to make sure they are still tight, and that they have not slipped or moved to a point where water can get in. Flashings around pipes, flues and other irregular surfaces also need to have a tight and continuous seal, so check carefully for missing caulk, worn or cracked gaskets, or other potential leak sites. Seal small openings with roof cement or silicone, or install complete new flashings.

All of the materials you need for these common roof repairs are available at roofing supply retailers, home centers, and larger hardware stores and lumber yards.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at [email protected]. What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. Copyright 2009 Inman News

See Paul Bianchina’s feature, Overwhelmed by Kitchen Floor Options?

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